Support our mission
As an alternative qualification, Maryland will seek out “STARs” (Skilled Through Alternative Routes) — those who are “age 25 or older, active in the labor force, have a high school diploma or equivalent, and have developed their skills through alternative routes such as community college, apprenticeships, military service, boot camps, and most commonly, on-the-job.”

As an alternative qualification, Maryland will seek out “STARs” (Skilled Through Alternative Routes) — those who are “age 25 or older, active in the labor force, have a high school diploma or equivalent, and have developed their skills through alternative routes such as community college, apprenticeships, military service, boot camps, and most commonly, on-the-job.” (Pexels)

American society needs a radical move away from credentialism. So it’s a very promising sign that Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has announced that thousands of Maryland state government jobs no longer will require a four-year college degree.

This change will boost opportunity and equity. Maybe it will even start a broader movement, including in the private sector.

As an alternative qualification, Maryland will seek out “STARs” (Skilled Through Alternative Routes) — those who are “age 25 or older, active in the labor force, have a high school diploma or equivalent, and have developed their skills through alternative routes such as community college, apprenticeships, military service, boot camps, and most commonly, on-the-job.”

Not surprisingly, the STARs categorization is likely to give its greatest opportunity boost to Black people, Latinos, immigrants and veterans. This will make for a fairer country, but without dragging down those who have achieved their stations through merit. Keep in mind that about two-thirds of Americans do not have a four-year college degree, so this reform also could make government more representative and less prone to mistrust and resentment.

A lot of the newly reclassified jobs are in administration, customer service and information technology. Those are all areas where people can excel without the four-year college experience. Service in the military, for instance, might very often be a better background. The new policy will also benefit anyone who is very smart but just did not enjoy the college experience, or has a disability that made college difficult or unpleasant to attend.

It was not so long ago that very few American jobs, including positions of leadership, required a college degree. My father ran one of America’s larger chambers of commerce in the 1970s, and he never started college, much less finished it. He was too rebellious and didn’t have the right kind of patience, yet he had the people skills that made him a good leader and fundraiser.

Today, a comparable applicant for the job probably would not receive consideration. Most of all, this hurts talented young men who may not have unblemished backgrounds — a group in need of more attention.

Very often it is assumed there is something wrong with a job applicant who doesn’t have a college degree. Many competent people therefore rush to get a degree, making this to some extent a self-fulfilling prophecy but nonetheless a highly wasteful practice. America needs to step back from this credential “arms race.” It doesn’t make sense to end up with an economy where so many bartenders and taxi drivers have graduate degrees.

Unfortunately, credentialist requirements tend to creep upward. At first a four-year degree is required, then a graduate degree is mandated or at least preferred, perhaps an MBA. As someone who has spent his life in the academy, I can assure you that Ph.D.s are entirely capable of preaching nonsense — and academics are by no means effective administrators or cooperators. Sadly, when it comes to credentialism and insisting on advanced degrees, I find the nonprofit sector, with its lack of relatively objective profit-and-loss measures, to be the worst.

On average, more education probably does correlate with better job performance — but there are a lot of exceptions. If U.S. society wants to boost opportunity for everyone, it needs to work harder to spot those exceptions and act on that knowledge. In a world where so much information and so many diverse forms of certification are available, there are far better ways to assess a candidate than asking the binary question of whether they have a four-year degree.

This move against credentialism is all the more imperative due to the rise of technology. Many of the top names in tech or crypto are dropouts and do not have degrees. To be sure, those are not the kind of people the Maryland state government is likely to be recruiting. But there are numerous people in tech, lower on the salary scale, who have not invested much in formal credentials, in part because they failed to see their professional relevance. For many tech jobs, a personal GitHub page is far more important.

Hogan’s reform is also a chance for an American government to gain first-mover advantage and shine as a policy entrepreneur. The state of Maryland employs only about 38,000 people, and this dictate is likely to apply to only about half of all jobs. But every social movement has to start somewhere. Perhaps this idea will next spread to Missouri, where neither the governor nor the lieutenant governor has a four-year college degree.

Bloomberg Opinion columnist Tyler Cowen is a professor of economics at George Mason University. His books include “Big Business: A Love Letter to an American Anti-Hero.” This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.


Stripes in 7



around the web


Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up